WASHINGTON (AP) – Arms shortages across Europe could leave Ukraine’s allies with tough choices as they balance their support for Ukraine against the risk that Russia could target her next.
For months, the United States and other NATO members have sent billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment to Ukraine to help it fight back against Russia. But for many of the smaller NATO countries, and even some of the larger ones, the war has strained already depleted stockpiles of weapons. Some allies sent in all their Soviet-era reserve weapons and are now awaiting US replacements.
Some European countries can find it difficult to resupply quickly because they no longer have a strong defense sector to quickly build replacements, and many rely on a dominant American defense industry that has edged out some foreign competitors.
Now they face a dilemma: continue to send their stockpiles of weapons to Ukraine, potentially increasing their own vulnerability to Russian attack, or withhold what remains to protect their homeland and risk the possibility that a Russian victory in Ukraine is more likely power?
It’s a tough bill.
After eight months of intense fighting, the allies expect the war to drag on for months, maybe years, with both sides rapidly depleting their stockpiles of weapons. Victory may depend on who lasts longer.
The stock trunk happens “constantly,” especially among smaller NATO countries, said Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur of Estonia, a Baltic country that shares a 295-kilometer border with Russia.
It weighs on them, even as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Western alliance members at a recent NATO meeting in Brussels to “dig deep and provide additional capabilities to Ukraine.”
European officials, in public comment and interviews with The Associated Press, said Russia must not be allowed to win in Ukraine and their support will continue. However, they emphasized that central defense weighs on them all.
“Our assessment is that Russia will restore its capabilities sooner rather than later” because Russian President Vladimir Putin can order arms manufacturers to produce around the clock, Pevkur said.
Russia has sent some troops to factories instead of to the front line, he said. The minister said Russia has a track record of rebuilding its military so it could launch invasions against European neighbors every few years, citing moves against Georgia in 2008, the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and now all Ukraine this year.
“So the question is, ‘How much risk are you willing to take?'” Pevkur said at a German Marshall Fund event last week.
Other smaller nations, such as neighboring Baltic country Lithuania, face the same challenges. But also some larger NATO members, including Germany.
“Ukraine has created a general supply shortage because so many states have forgotten that conventional warfare is burning through their ammunition reserves. Just elope,” said Dovilė Šakalienė, Member of the Lithuanian Parliament, in a telephone interview. “In certain situations even the word ‘excess’ is not applicable. In certain situations we were content with the bare minimum.”
Germany is facing a similar situation, the defense ministry said in an email to the AP. “Yes, the Bundeswehr’s stocks are limited. As is the case in other European countries,” the ministry said.
“For security reasons, I can’t tell you the exact stock levels. However, we are working to close the existing gaps.”
It may not be possible for some NATO countries to “dig deep,” said Max Bergmann, the European director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“They essentially reduced the fat,” Bergmann said. “Now they cut into the bone.”
Supplies are low because for many European nations military spending became a lesser priority after the end of the Cold War, which weakened their industrial defense base. US defense contractors also played a role as they entered the competition for European contracts.
“We wanted them to buy Americans,” Bergmann said. “If the Norwegians use F-16s and F-35s instead of the Swedish Saab Gripen fighter jets, it will have an impact on the strength of the European defense market,” he said.
The US has long urged other NATO member countries to increase defense spending to 2% of their GDP – a goal most had failed to achieve.
Since the Russian invasion, several European countries have pledged significant increases in defense spending to quickly rebuild their armed forces while sending much of their available funds to Ukraine.
Estonia has given a third of its defense budget to Ukraine, Pevkur said. Norway has provided more than 45% of its inventory of howitzers, Slovenia has provided almost 40% of its tanks and the Czech Republic has provided about 33% of its multiple missile systems, according to the Kiel Institute in Germany. The team based its analysis on an annual report on the known weaponry and troop strengths of militaries around the world, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The US has earmarked more than $17.5 billion for weapons and equipment to Ukraine since February, leading some congressmen to question whether she, too, is taking too many risks. The Pentagon will not provide data on its own holdings.
The Washington-based research group Stimson Center estimates that the war in Ukraine has reduced US stockpiles of Javelin anti-tank weapons by up to a third and Stinger missile stockpiles by 25%. It also puts pressure on the artillery supply because the US-made M777 Howitzer is no longer in production.
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Gen. Pat Ryder said that when Austin recently met with numerous countries’ top state arms buyers, he discussed the need “not only to replenish our own stockpiles as an international community, but also to ensure that we can continue to provide support.” Ukraine in the future.”
Estonia decided to increase its defense budget by 42.5% this year to replenish its stocks. Germany is working on long-term contracts for high-value munitions like Stinger missiles, and in September signed a €560 million ($548 million) deal for 600 new Navy guided missiles, scheduled for delivery by 2029.
Restoring stockpiles and rebuilding weapons manufacturing capacity will be a long process, said Tom Waldwyn, a defense procurement researcher at the IISS.
For some countries, “it may require larger investments in infrastructure. This will not come cheap as inflation and supply chain instability have pushed up costs,” Waldwyn said.
Šakalienė has urged other members of Lithuania’s parliament to start awarding long-term defense contracts now to rebuild the country’s self-defense capability.
“We are not safe without long-term, sustainable decisions to expand military industry,” Šakalienė said. “This decade will not be peaceful. This decade will be tough.”
Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine